Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Cottered, Hertfordshire

St John the Baptist is, on the face of it, a fairly run of the mill, bog standard Hertfordshire spiked church, heavily restored but not devastatingly so. It doesn't create a flutter of excitement when encountered but a sense of fondness, like greeting your maiden aunt.

Except that St Christopher, the patron saint of travellers, is depicted on the north wall of the Nave opposite the main doorway. Thought to date from the second half of the 15th century, it was discovered under a thick coat of whitewash when the Victorians carried out an extensive restoration programme in 1886. However, the mural was not completely uncovered until the time of Rev Arthur Granger, Rector here from 1915 to 1925.

Depicted on each side of the main figure are zigzag roads and various roadside crosses along them. On the left at the bottom of the painting is a youth wearing pointed shoes near a tree. A hermit, dressed in a surplice, stands at cross roads with a large red lantern, rather like the old type of telephone kiosk. He is also pulling a rope attached to a bell in a turret high above his head.

On the right hand side of the picture at the base are two men with drawn swords, and high up are some timber framed buildings and two churches. The borders are decorated with flowers connected by a tendril like pattern.

ST JOHN THE BAPTIST. The outstanding feature is the spacious aisleless nave with large three-light transomed Perp windows with four-centred heads. It makes the church appear a palatial Hall. The masonry of the nave is older (see the C14 doorways). Of the C14 also the W tower (see the W window and tower arch). The tower is unbuttressed and has a lead spire. The chancel is lower than the nave. Its windows are Perp but the chancel arch looks early C14. - FONT. Early C18, of lovely grey Derbyshire marble, with baluster stem and fluted bowl. - DOORS. Nave, heavy oak, C15 (?). Vestry, with Late Medieval ironwork. - PAINTING. On the nave wall large figure of St Christopher with indications of river surroundings and much incidental drama of the medieval highway. - PLATE. Chalice and Paten, 1711.

St Christopher (1)

St Christopher001

St Christopher detail 1


Corbel (1)
Corbel (2)

Cottered. It gathers about its green, on which cows and donkeys graze in the shadow of tall elms. There is an ancient farmhouse and a church 600 years old. We open the 500-year-old door of the church and find the faded figure of St Christopher greeting us, the background of the scene like a medieval map, with castles and roads, a horseman riding, and a countryman stepping through the meadows, like a picture of our countryside when this church was built in the middle of the 14th century. The lofty nave has a 15th century timber roof and is lit by six medieval transomed windows, some with fragments of their original glass. There is a second old door to the vestry with 16th century ironwork, and the vase-shaped marble font is 18th century. The chapel was built 500 years ago by Edward Pulter of Broadfield Manor, a house that has been made new but keeps the 17th century stables.

Here is one of the oldest houses in the county, a farmhouse known as The Lordship, built 500 years ago and interesting as showing the changes of the 17th century. It has many of its original doorways and much 17th century panelling, but the front door which the village knew for nearly five centuries is now in America.

There died in this village in 1926 a brilliant surgeon who spent his life in public causes, Sir James Cantlie. Here he lies in the churchyard, and on the wall of the church is a white tablet with a bronze medallion showing his kindly face, with the words: Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Merciful indeed he was, a Scotsman who went out to China in 1887 as a surgeon, and also spent many years in India, mastering the mystery of tropical sickness and founding the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine. The tablet was set up by the Chinese Minister in London, Dr Alfred Sze, in appreciation of the noble services Sir James Cantlie rendered to China. In the critical days when Dr Sun Yat Sen was kidnapped and held a prisoner in the Chinese Legation in London it was Dr Cantlie who saved his life and enabled him to become the Christian President of the Chinese Republic. Sir James was knighted for his work in the Great War.

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